Native Virginian Denny Hamlin is well positioned to record another home state win after capturing the pole in qualifying Friday at Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin (122.344 mph) led the final session of the three-round format to secure the top spot for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400, his first pole of the season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is seeking his third win and first since 2010 on what he considers his home track.
"This is a great kick for us," Hamlin said. "We've qualified in the top 10 I think 23 or 24 straight weeks and to be able to finally get a pole is a great feeling."
Kyle Larson (122.288 mph) qualified second, followed by defending race winner Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, who had been fastest in the first two rounds.
McMurray is the only driver among the top five who hasn't secured a berth in NASCAR's playoffs, which begin next week. The 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field will be finalized following Richmond, the last event of the 26-race regular season.
Completing the top 10 were Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Like McMurray, Dillon and Kahne have yet to lock themselves into the Chase. McMurray and Dillon are provisionally in due to their respective points ranking, while Kahne must win Saturday night.
"I think they are as good as they've been in a while," Kahne said of snapping a two-year winless streak. "... A lot of cars are, so it's going to be a tough race, but I think we have a car capable of contending and racing in the top five throughout the night."
The highest qualifier outside the Chase cutoff was Ryan Newman in 15th, whose team was assessed a 15-point penalty on Wednesday. He now trails McMurray, the holder of the last transfer spot, by 22 points and enters Richmond in a virtual must-win situation.
"We've been trying to win now for three years, so there's no better time than tomorrow night," Newman said.
Cole Whitt was the only entrant failing to qualify.
FEDERATED AUTO PARTS 400 STARTING LINEUP
|6||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||122.045|
|22||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||120.654|